missing cover art
SummaryA successful resurrection of a nearly forgotten mascot.
The GoodIn the late 90s and early 2000s, the platformer was the premier genre of gaming, and one of it's biggest names was Rayman. Between 1995 and 2003, Rayman's developer/publisher Ubisoft showed that a videogame protagonist lacking arms and legs can be successful. While not quite a top-tier name, Rayman occupied a solid niche just below the elites. His three games were polished platformers with some of the lushest visuals on consoles and addictive gameplay, and could always be counted on for a good time. Sadly, trends in the market shifted away from platformers to action and FPS titles, meaning that the genre was no longer commercially viable (unless it was "edgy" like the Jak and Daxter sequels).
However, Ubisoft decided in 2006 to take the series in a drastically different direction with Rayman Raving Rabbids. While that game was somewhat fun, it didn't have the level of impact as the games that preceded it. Even worse, the game's lagomorphic titular characters became more popular than Rayman himself, eventually spinning off into their own series.
During Rayman's lapse into obscurity, platformers started to become more popular again. With popular mascots such as Mario ,Donkey Kong, and even Sonic starring in critically well recieved and commercially successful titles, Ubisoft decided to give their old hero a comeback. And what a comeback it is.
While the previous two entries in the series were 3D adventures, Ubisoft decided to follow Nintendo's and Sega's lead and bring Rayman back to his two dimensional "Origins". Interestingly, the dimension is really the only thing that this game has in common with the first installment, as this game plays very differently. While the game is a basic platformer at heart, there is an increased emphasis on speed, fluidity, and combat that none of the previous installments had.
Rayman's famous throwing fist attacks are back, he can also kick, jump on, and slam down on enemy foes as well. but this time, he has a new arsenal of moves that he didn't have in the first game. Now, he can sprint up walls and underneath ceilings, shrink himself to fit inside secreet passages, wall jump, and swim underwater. These new moves are introduced to the player as they go further into the first half of the game. After getting to the end of the mountain world, the game surprises you with five additional worlds to play that you never knew were there. This kind of bait and switch is welcome, especially since it doubles the length of the game and forces you to put all of the moves you learned during the first half to the test in the second half.
The game provides a throwback to the mosquito stage in the first game by having the player fly on one of the giant bugs in horizontally scrolling shooter stages. These shooter stages are easily just as well-crafted as the platformer levels and offer a refreshing change of pace from the standard hop-and-bop gameplay. The mosquito has some really cool abilities that make the shooter stages feel fresh. He can suck in enemies through his nose and spit them back out at enemies, which is very satisfying to do. He can also shoot projectiles which bound around on the level walls to hit otherwise hidden enemies. I love this, as it gives the shooting an almost puzzle-like element to it.
Each and every stage in the game, including the shooters, all have multiple objectives to complete, extending the replay value well beyond finishing the campaign. You can collect enough Lums to score a medal, run a time trial, and break open all of the cages by finding the bonus rooms. Getting the cages and Lums also unlocks extra stages where you must race after a treasure chest. These stages are some of the craziest and most fun I've ever seen in a 2D platformer, and always leave me breathless after finishing them even though I'm just pushing buttons. Completing all of those stages in turn unlocks what I believe is an extra, secret world, though what it is I can't say yet since I still need to unlock the last chest. I've been playing the game for several months now, so don't think that just because the game is a platformer it won't last you a long time. In addition, the entire game can be enjoyed with up to three other players locally, so you can share the fun with everyone.
The graphics of the game have been getting the most praise from reviewers, and I think it definitely lives up to the hype. The game is as visually stunning in 2012 as the original Rayman must have been in 1995. Unlike most current-gen 2D platformers, there's no 2.5D workarounds or cel-shaded models in Rayman Origins. Everything is hand-drawn and or rendered in colorful 2D that looks less like a video game and more like a Looney Tunes cartoon. The animations for all characters are some of the smoothest I've seen in any 2D video game period. There's loads of parallax scrolling, lighting effects, and varied landscapes to ensure that every moment of the game is a feast for the eyes.
Amazingly, this is one of the few Wii games that can stand proudly alongside its technically more advanced counterparts. Ubisoft made no compromises with both content and graphics, and I honestly cannot tell the difference between this and the other versions. Now granted, the graphics are not the same resolution as their other counterparts, but what I see gets the job done more than adequately with no perceptible loss of detail. What's even more surprising about this is that the game wasn't initially announced to be playable on the Wii at all, so for Ubisoft to completely turn around and make a competent port is something virtually unheard of from any developer. And in doing so, they gave the system one more excellent game in the system's troublesome last year of life.
The BadThe controls for swimming can sometimes get a little bit flaky, especially if you play with the Wii Remote alone and use the d-pad to move Rayman. The stages were obviously designed for pads with full 360 analog control, with oddly-angled passageways and one hit kill hazards that demand maximum precision that can frustrate at times.
While the graphics are top-notch and the sounds are pretty good for the style of game, I honestly don't care for the music all that much. The composers decided to go for a more whacked-out and bizarre soundtrack than in past games, but I found it to be distracting. Filled with twangy didgeridoo, chipmunk-like vocals, and CONSTANT ukulele, the soundtrack ended up getting on my nerves more than it developed atmosphere.
I found that the camera zooming could make it difficult to see where you are on-screen. During one level of the game, Rayman seemed no bigger than a few pixels on-screen because the camera had zoomed too far out. This can be incredibly annoying.
There's no online multiplayer or leaderboards of any sort, not even on the other available versions, which seems like a missed opportunity.
Finally, the boss fights are all shoved to the back half of the game, which seems very odd for a retro-style platformer such as this.
The Bottom LineIf you've ever enjoyed a Rayman game or even a 2D platformer in the past, then you should definitely pick up Rayman Origins, especially now that its gone down significantly in price since its November debut. This is one of the best platformers not just on Wii but on all current systems as well. It might also be my favorite game of the series, which says a lot since I love the others as well. Rayman Origins adds another breath of life to this once venerable genre, while giving it a modern appeal. Welcome back Rayman. We missed you.